Footprints from the Dust Bowl: Using Historical Geographic Information Systems to Explore Land and Resource Access, Use, and Survivability in “No Man’s Land,” Cimarron County, Oklahoma

Jacqueline M. Vadjunec, Austin L. Boardman, Todd D. Fagin, Michael P. Larson, Peter Kedron, Brian Birchler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Despite the importance of land legacy effects on land use/land cover change (LULCC), historical data remain underutilized in analyses of social–environmental systems (SES). Drought, a slow-onset disaster, serves as an ideal case study to examine how multitemporal LULCC provides context for contemporary land use patterns. We use historical geographic information systems (HGIS) to analyze land ownership change, resource access, and land use in Cimarron County, Oklahoma, the epicenter of the Dust Bowl. We digitize archival county plats covering 1931 through 2014 into an HGIS. Through analysis of ownership information, we trace changes in familial and corporate landholdings during this period, exploring how different landowner types have changed over time. Aerial photography analysis helps to quantify the adoption of irrigation in relation to family survivability. Results show that families with larger landholdings in the 1930s were significantly more likely to persist through the Dust Bowl and continue owning land in the present. Access to the Ogallala Aquifer also increased the duration of land ownership. Corporate operators were most aggressive in adopting irrigation. Results raise questions of sustainability and uneven access to resources. We argue that land legacy has profound impacts nearly a century later. Further, SES studies can benefit from incorporating HGIS into their repertoire.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalAnnals of the American Association of Geographers
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2021
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Dust Bowl
  • historic GIS
  • land legacy
  • land use/land cover change
  • social–environmental systems

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth-Surface Processes

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